Requiescat in pacem: Ohnothimagen
A remembrance from a longtime Los Angeles music critic . . .
When all is said and done, George Harrison may have been the most influential Beatle of them all and given their immense influence, that is saying a lot. Through his curiosity and by quiet example, Harrison did nothing less than open the ears of the Western world toward Eastern music, culture and thought and that accomplishment may make him an even more towering figure in the history books than either Lennon or McCartney.
Think about it. Before Harrison discovered a sitar on the set of "Help!", who in the West knew anything about Indian music? The classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, maybe a handful of other musicians in specialized fields none with the international fame of Beatle George and a few hardy adventurers who might have stumbled upon one of Ravi Shankar early Angel albums buried in the back bins of their local record shops.
By playing a few rudimentary lines of sitar on The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and then following up on the idea right through "Love You To," "Within You, Without You," and "The Inner Light," Harrison opened our ears and ignited our curiosity about a music that frankly hardly any of us could ever dream existed. For all of their originality and, yes, genius, Lennon and McCartney were mostly drawing from familiar Western sources, while Harrison contributed something completely different from our everyday experience.
Moreover, it was Harrison, through the unavoidable glare of the public spotlight on anything The Beatles did, who brought Shankar to the undivided attention of the Western world. Shankar's ragas taught us a different way of listening to music, going with the flow and not expecting the usual Western patterns of tunes, developments, structures and the like. This had a profound influence upon the classical music world, helping to usher in the style of minimalism that overthrew the harsh tyranny of Schoenberg's 12-tone row.
Indian music also infiltrated the pathbreaking early jazz-rock experiments of Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ultimately it opened the gates in the Western world for the flood of what we now call world music. To say that Harrison is one of the founding fathers of world music may be an exaggeration, but he was certainly one of its most powerful catalysts and given the fact that world music's impact is on the rise in the 21st century as rock continues to wane, he is looking more and more like a true prophet.
We could carry that thought even further and point to Harrison as the starting point for many a Westerner's journey into Eastern religion and spirituality. After all, he was the one who led The Beatles to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental meditation and whatever you may think of the depth of their commitment or the credibility of the Maharishi, it was the publicity surrounding their visit that made people aware of Eastern spiritual ideas, which prior to this had barely registered a blip in the West. The ramifications of this are too vast and daunting to explore in this space, but it demonstrates the ultimate power of a seed that Harrison aided by the forces of publicity and charisma was able to plant.
Did George set out to change the world? I doubt it; he was too sensitive, too self-effacing, and possessed too sharp a sardonic wit to think that much of his powers. But power he had, simply from the virtue of being in the world's most visible, most worshipped, most loved quartet.
When he felt like it, he could use that power for admirable ends like harnessing the lure of music to help starving refugees in Bangla Desh, or keeping Indian music in public awareness by continuing to work on Ravi Shankar's projects almost to the end of his life. But perhaps he made a bigger point by not using his power as often as he could have, teaching by example the Eastern value of acceptance. And even as the end approached, he was secure enough to joke about it (hence the publishing credit of what may have been his last recording, "Horse to the Water," to RIP Music Ltd., 2001).
These Beatles were like family to anyone who fell under their spell in the 1960s and beyond and to lose one is almost more than we can bear.
Especially this one.
Richard S. Ginell
Some thoughts from Beatlefest promoter Mark Lapidos . . .
How does someone begin to write about a person who has been such an important part of his fabric for almost 38 years? I have decided to tell some personal George stories from my pre-Beatlefest days, the five years I worked at Sam Goody as a record/assistant manager.
I start exactly 30 years ago today from when I am writing this - Dec. 20, 1971, the day "The Concert For Bangla Desh" was released. I was at that concert four months earlier and to this day, it is my all time favorite concert. I was on vacation in California and cut it short to make it back in time for the concert (at Madison Square Garden). I knew what I had witnessed was historic and the next day at the store I was telling everybody that when the album came out it would win the Grammy for Album of the Year.
It was supposed to come out right away but Capitol and Columbia fought for the rights for months. This turned out for the better because it never would have beaten out Carole King's "Tapestry" that year.
I set up a special bin for the artists who appeared in the concert, and it became the hottest spot in the store for a month. The anticipation for the album was like no other, especially because it was getting very close to the holidays. Thirty years ago, release dates were not all on Tuesday and not always announced that far ahead. I remember that Monday so clearly. The warehouse had called to tell me that the 800 copies I ordered were on their way. The list price was only $12.98 (not bad for a 3-record set!).
People were hanging around the store and waiting for the arrival of this treasure. Beatlefan Senior Editor Al Sussman was also working at Sam Goody with me at that time (the Paramus, NJ, store). At the stroke of 3 p.m. the truck arrived at the loading dock. It was the only time I can remember actually going to the loading dock, but I ran down the long corridor and there were two full pallets of the album. I actually hugged the pallet, grabbed as many cartons as I could hand carry and hurried back to the store where I had Al stationed to hand them out to a long line of fans waiting. I can still hear and feel the excitement when I walked into the store. An astounding 252 copies sold by the time we closed at 10 p.m., a sales record we never duplicated. (We probably would have sold 500 if we had them when the day began.)
Oh, by the way, the album was indeed awarded the Grammy's highest honor . . .
Going back 11 months to Nov. 28, 1970 - the release of "All Things Must Pass": Nowadays stores get in new releases on Friday or Monday and are not permitted to sell them until Tuesday, That was not the case 30 years ago. When an album arrived in the store, it immediately went onto the sales floor. The first and only exception I can recall was with George's masterpiece. For some reason, we received the record on Nov. 27, but were not to offer it until the 28th. At closing time on the 27th, I went to the store manager and told him I wasn't leaving the store without a copy in my hands. He was sort of trying to give me a hard time, but eventually I won out and rushed home for its inaugural listen . . .
Then, at the New York City store, April, 1973, I was the assistant store manager and George's very long-awaited follow up, "Living in the Material World", was nearing release. The single is hand delivered to the store early on a Saturday morning, before the store opens. I immediately go to the audio department and put the record on the best audio system in the store. The one with $1,000 gigantic speakers! I put on "Give Me Love" VERY LOUD and sat in front of the two speakers, then I flipped the single over to hear "Miss O'Dell" (which had not yet been played on the radio). I can still clearly remember how joyous a moment this was. I was completely oblivious to all the employees around wondering what was going on in the audio department!
After the song was over, my ignorant non-musical audio manager came over and broke the record. I couldn't believe this jerk was in the same business as I was. I demanded he pay full retail price for the record, which he did (It was only 89 cents, but it was the principle) . . .
During the first Beatlefest, the New York Times interviewed me. It appeared on that Sunday, Sept. 8, 1974. In the story, the writer said something like, "Although Mr. Lapidos was dressed in a white suit with an orange shirt just like George wore at the Concert for Bangla Desh, he would not reveal who his favorite Beatle was."
Twentyseven years have passed and I still won't say. Perhaps it is because they all mean so much to me and at various times I have had different favorite Beatles. I think that the love I feel in my heart for them is something that everyone reading Beatlefan or who attends a Beatlefest can understand.
To close, here is a collection of my thoughts after just learning the very sad news. I posted it on my Web site that morning and copied here verbatim:
7:00AM, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH. I am sitting here trying to put into words my feelings and it's not easy. Our worst fears have happened. One of the world's greatest and brightest beacons has died. George Harrison passed away yesterday (11/29) due to complications from cancer. Olivia and Dhani were at his side at a friend's house in Los Angeles. We are all so saddened. George gave us so much joy through his music and his life's journey. His last message was for everybody to love one another.
His musical legacy is unmatched, except for those of his former band mates. I remember trying to play "Here Comes the Sun" on guitar from the day "Abbey Road" came out. It took 22 months almost to the day that George organized the very first all star benefit concert (for Bangla Desh). All the others followed in George's enormous and modest footsteps (from Live Aid, Farm Aid right up to last month's Concert for New York). To this day, that was my all time favorite concert. I will never forget when he came onstage with just an acoustic guitar, accompanied by Badfinger's Pete Ham and proceeded to play "Here Comes the Sun". He had a capo on the 7th fret. I said, IS THAT HOW HE GOT THAT SOUND!
When I met with George in 1976, before the first Los Angeles Beatlefest, I talked with him about it and he already knew about the convention as he was planning to send things down to the show, which he did. He had a way of making those around him comfortable and he had no objections talking about The Beatles.
There are those very few people who pass through this life and truly make a difference. George was certainly one of them. He can NEVER be replaced. Let's all try to reflect on the positive force that was George Harrison. Listen to his music, have a good cry and hope that Olivia and Dhani know that he was so loved by so many. Peace and love, Mark.
Finding a Purpose
A tribute from the author of "The Beatles After the Breakup: 1970-2000" . . .
It wasn't just Paul who was devastated by George's death, it was the whole world. We've lost someone who was known to be extremely generous, kind and loyal. He was also so very, very talented. His role in the musical development of The Beatles should never be underestimated. Isn't "Something" one of the greatest love songs ever written? Frank Sinatra thought so. And from his solo years, weren't "My Sweet Lord", "What Is Life?" and "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)" some of the most moving, spiritual songs ever composed?
As we know, George soon grew tired of the mania surrounding The Beatles, forcing him to take a back seat at those inept Beatles press conferences, leading pundits to unfairly call him '"the Quiet Beatle." But as his close friend, Michael Palin, affectionately remarked, "When I was with him, I couldn't get a word in."
George was someone who was not afraid to speak about God, saying what he thought and laughing to himself when he saw that some people just didn't understand a word he was saying.
There'll be millions of words said about him over the next few days, weeks, months, years, but let us now remember that he's now out of pain and with God. Most importantly, he's now found out why he was put on this Earth. I suspect it was to give love, spread peace and make millions of people very, very happy . . .
Our thoughts must go to Olivia and Dhani.
A message from Russia
A message from the Russian correspondent for Beatlefan . . .
November 30 was the saddest day of the 21st century. We all tried to be prepared for this woeful news, but how could we? Today TV announcers tell us that "a former member of the popular '60s group The Beatles has died" implying that George Harrison was someone from the past. They're wrong. George Harrison was one of the most gifted musicians of all time and one of the most remarkable human beings. We've lost someone to look up to. We've lost the teacher, the Guru. We've lost a friend.
How much joy he had brought to the lives of every one of us - with his music, his humanity, his very life! We all have relatives, friends, neighbors - do we know them as good as we know George? Do we follow their lives so closely? Do they give us so much happiness as he did? Tell this to those who look in amazement at the tears in our eyes.
Most of us didn't know him personally. We knew him by his music - and thus we knew him better than, say, his bussiness assistants. The only good news today is that his music is still with us. And the world is turning while his guitar gently weeps.
I believe he passed away in peace and felt our love at the very last moment.
There's not many ways to pay tribute here in Russia. Yet two dozen faithful led by noted Russian fans Vladimir Pashintsev and Alexander Vybornov held a four-hour vigil at the British Embassy in Moscow. In the freezing cold they stood with candles, white roses and framed pictures taken off the bedroom walls.
On behalf of Russian fans
'The People's Beatle' in Britain
And here are some thoughts from a fan living in Britain . . .
I suppose it's "politcally incorrect" to have a favorite Beatle or list them in your mind in a 1, 2, 3, 4 order; after all The Beatles were, in Mick Jagger's words "the four-headed monster." I have always had a set order in my mind and heart since I was first introduced to the Fab Four back in 1978. From that day to this, and for the rest of time it will always be John, George, Paul and Ringo for me. Now my two favorite Beatles, no my two favorite artists, are no longer with us.
I always tried to convince myself that George would beat this cancer; if he had been spared a savage knife attack less than two years previous, then it was obviously not his time to leave the material world. "I'm not gonna die on you folks just yet," as the man said.
I'm 35 years old now but I cried like a baby for a few days after George's passing. I had to watch all the news tributes and read all the magazines and newspapers, some of which was difficult and some of which was comforting, and in places funny as George's more humorous takes on life were listed. As you are aware, the British tabloid press has a reputation and George often openly criticised them both in song and in spoken word. Yet despite that virtually everything written about him has been positive and respectful, one paper actually labeling George as "The People's Beatle" because he lacked the ego of John and Paul and was just "one of the lads, a down to earth Liverpudlian boy with no airs and graces"
It has however been particulalry amusing to read some articles written by so called experts on The Beatles who have, as ever, put a bit of a slant on their story and written them with, shall we say, an attitude. Philip Norman, a particular "favorite" with the McCartney family referred to George as "a miserable git" and gave his reasons. I had to laugh. He made great play of George's quote from the "Anthology" about the MBE award - "after all we did for Britain, selling all that corduroy and making it swing, they gave us that bloody old leather medal with wooden string through it."
Well, just written down Mr. Norman, you could take it as a bitter, miserable quote, but watch George actually say it on the "Anthology" video and watch that big smile and chuckle after saying it !
So much of George's humor never really transferred well to the printed word, but hearing the voice and/or seeing the face told more than words alone. I amused myself with the knowledge that those who thought George Harrison was a humorless, religious freak were just plain stupid and had missed, through limited intelligence, so much. You would think that they would have got it when every one of George's friends referred to his wonderful sense of humor. Never mind, their loss I suppose.
I look back fondly, even moreso now, on the Natural Law Party Benefit at the Albert Hall in April 1992. I was up in the gods that night and George was a fair way away on that stage but the evening was magical. Every song was met with wild thunderous applause and I was so sure that in the years to come there would be more, one-off shows here and there because George was so obviously enjoying the whole evening. I was struck by the sheer amazement of George at the reception and reaction he got from the packed audience. At one point he remarked that he never realized how much he was loved, "you never know," he said. I thought at the time, and I hope and pray now, that wherever you are, George, that you do know now for sure.
There has been plenty of speculation that George finished off an album worth of material shortly before he passed away. Anyone who follows the news section of Beatlefan or has "The Beatles Reader" from Billboard will be aware that there is indeed a mass of unissued songs, the album with the working title "Portrait of a Leg End" from a couple of years ago is presumably what the press is talking about. I am quite sure that George will have put his musical legacy in place in his final few weeks and left his family with instructions and his wishes.
There must be so much material; in an interview with the BBC in 1987 George, talking about his songs, remarked that he had boxes of tapes "that would make Jim Reeves proud" - Reeves' material was released long, long after his death. So I hope the album, and the boxed set that George spoke about in Billboard a couple of years ago, see the light of day eventually, when Olivia and Dhani feel the time is right. Yoko Ono has done a wonderful job in keeping John's musical legacy alive and I hope that the Harrison family will do the same with George. At the end of the day we are, after all, left with the one thing that attracted us to George Harrison in the first place, and that is the music.
Rest in peace, George, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for all your humor, your warmth and, most of all, your music. You will never be forgotten.
Somewhere in England.
A Baby Boomer View
And here is a tribute from the host of a Beatles radio program . . .
We've all tried to put in perspective the last few days - a most difficult task - what the death of George Harrison means to each of us. Yesterday, The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, CA, ran a banner headline, "Ex-Beatle's death a sign for an aging generation."
Any of us Baby Boomers old enough to recall the emergence of The Beatles in 1964 really needn't have any further reminders about the effect of the aging process. All one has to do is get out of bed every day to notice, and then we give thanks, if we're intelligent, for realizing that another day has come when we are lucky enough to have our feet hit the floor first.
The reality is, 40 years of time blurs a picture, and our recall comes down to the emotion only felt the first time we saw them, heard their music, marveled at their cunning and cuteness, their joy and playfulness. My guess is the reason you listen to a Beatles radio show these days is, plain and simple, The Beatles make you feel good. They did that very first day, and they will as long as you live.
If you are a regular listener to my show, I bet you have never turned off a Beatles song that came on the radio, and I'll take it one step further - you probably have a difficult time not singing along.
A lifelong Beatle fan knows all about the legacy of George. The Guitarist, the Quiet One, the Spiritual One. We may all say we have a favorite Beatle, but who of us ever could have anything negative to say about George, like we may have about the other three? The only criticism I ever heard was that his music became too spiritual. Looking back, it's that completely distinguishable characteristic of George's music that led many of us to look into ourselves and search for a higher consciousness, a path of greater enlightenment and spirituality.
The greatness of popular music is that the recordings remain in our collections, and the sounds and lyrics will always be there, anytime we feel the necessity to reach out. That's what music is all about, either a connection with another person, time, or place, or a reconnection with ourself.
George Harrison, better than any other popular figure, probably better than most other people each of us know, maybe better than each of us, was greatly prepared to die. I think he would urge each of us to live, live in peace, live in love, and live with a greater consciousness of the beauty of the world around us, and what each of us as individuals have the possibility to accomplish by leading a path of spirituality in whichever way we choose.